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Sep 27 Teresa of Avila declared the first female doctor of the church

Today in 1970 and travel to Rome where Pope Paul VI finally named the Spanish Mystic and reformer, Teresa Sánchez de Cepeda y Ahumada, a doctor of the church. She was the founder of the discalced Carmelites and is widely known as Teresa of Avila and is now acknowledged as a theologian of the contemplative life and of mental prayer

She became the central figure of a movement of spiritual and monastic renewal borne out of an inner conviction and honed by ascetic practice.

She was also at the centre of deep resistance as she took on the pervasive laxity in her order against the background of the Protestant reformation sweeping over Europe and the Spanish Inquisition asserting church discipline in her home country. One papal legate described her as a "restless wanderer, disobedient, and stubborn femina who, under the title of devotion, invented bad doctrines, moving outside the cloister against the rules of the Council of Trent and her prelates; teaching as a master against Saint Paul's orders that women should not teach." In spite of such opposition from within the church, forty years after her death, in 1622, she was canonized by Pope Gregory XV. She has since become one of the patron saints of Spain. Since her death, her reputation has grown, leading to multiple portrayals. She continues to be widely noted as an inspiration to philosophers, theologians, historians, neurologists, fiction writers and artists, as well as to countless ordinary people interested in Christian spirituality and mysticism.

However, it was not till four hundred years later on 27 September 1970 when she was proclaimed the first female Doctor of the Church in recognition of her centuries-long spiritual legacy to Catholicism. Her reform of the Carmelite Orders of both women and men was later joined by the younger Spanish Carmelite friar and mystic John of the Cross. It led eventually to the establishment of the Discalced Carmelites. A formal papal decree adopting the split from the old order was issued in 1580. Her written legacy, which include her autobiography, The Life of Teresa of Jesus and her seminal work The Interior Castle, are today an integral part of Spanish Renaissance literature. Together with The Way of Perfection, her works form part of the literary canon of Christian mysticism and Christian meditation practice, and continue to attract interest from people both within and outside the Catholic Church.

Teresa's writings are regarded as among the most remarkable in the mystical literature of the Catholic Church. The great FrenchP philosopher René Descartes was influenced by her who, fifty years before him wrote popular books about the role of philosophical reflection in intellectual growth particularly her Interior Castle. This is a guide for spiritual development through service and prayer. The work was inspired by her vision of the soul as a diamond in the shape of a castle containing seven mansions, which she interpreted as the journey of faith through seven stages, ending with union with God. Along with The Way of Perfection, they are practical blueprints for "seekers" who want to really experience prayer as mystical union with God.

A constant theme of her writing is the ascent of the soul to God in four stages, Beginning with the Devotion of the Heart, mental prayer and contemplation. For Teresa this meant the withdrawal of the soul from without, penitence and especially the devout meditation on the passion of Christ. The second stage, Devotion of Peace, is where human will is surrendered to God with memory, reason, and imagination handed over. This is still imperfect as partial distraction can happen, and can be compensated by outer activity such as repetition of prayers or writing down spiritual things, the prevailing state is one of quietude The third, Devotion of Union, concerns the absorption-in-God. It is not only a heightened, but essentially, an ecstatic state. At this level, reason is also surrendered to God, and only the memory and imagination are left to ramble. This state is characterized by a blissful peace, a sweet slumber of at least the higher soul faculties, that is a consciousness of being enraptured by the love of God. The final and fourth stage is the Devotion of Ecstasy, where consciousness of being in the body disappears. Body and spirit dwell in the throes of exquisite pain, alternating between a fearful fiery glow, in complete unconscious helplessness, and periods of apparent strangulation. Sometimes such ecstatic transports literally cause the body to be lifted into space. This state may last as long as half an hour and is followed by relaxation and a few hours of weakness, the subject awakens from this trance state in tears. It may be regarded as the culmination of mystical experience. Indeed, Teresa was said to have been observed levitating during Mass on more than one occasion

With such an intense spiritual life, well-meaning friends suggested that the experiences could be of diabolical and not of divine origin. She had begun to inflict mortifications of the flesh upon herself. But her confessor, the Jesuit Francis Borgia, reassured her of the divine inspiration of her thoughts. The intensity of some of her mystical experiences were reported in her autobiography. In one vision, a seraph drove the fiery point of a golden lance repeatedly through her heart, causing her an ineffable spiritual and bodily pain: I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it ...

The account of this vision was the inspiration for one of Bernini's most famous works, the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa at Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. Although based in part on Teresa's description of her mystical transverberation in her autobiography, Bernini's depiction of the event is considered by some to be highly eroticized, but as Bernini biographer Franco Mormando points out, although Bernini's point of departure for his depiction of Teresa's mystical experience was her own description, there were many details about the experience that she never specifies (e.g., the position of her body) and that Bernini simply supplied from his own artistic imagination, all with an aim of increasing the nearly transgressively sensual charge of the episode: "Certainly no other artist, in rendering the scene, before or after Bernini, dared as much in transforming the saint's appearance” It is generally considered to be one of the sculptural masterpieces of the High Roman Baroque.


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